Yay for Fat Tuesday: Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies


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Today is Fat Tuesday, so I get to eat all the cookies, cake, chocolate and ice cream I want. In fact, I’m eating a brownie as I type this. Lent begins tomorrow, and I’m giving up desserts for the second year in a row. Six weeks with zero sugary goodness.

I was raised just “semi-Catholic.” I attended Catholic mass on occasion with my mom, but I never participated in Communion, Confirmation or anything else that makes you an official member of the Catholic church. But I still feel like it’s a good practice to give up something difficult for a short period—not only for spirituality—
but for the sake of my mind and body.

Giving up dessert seems silly, but it’s a huge huuuuuuuge challenge for me. When I feel happy, I crave something sweet. When I’m depressed, I crave something sweet. When I’m stressed, angry, relaxed, excited….I crave something sweet! So giving up desserts not only detoxes my body from sugar overload, it also forces me to deal with my emotions in a different way.

Last year was difficult. I ended up eating a loooot of whole grain cinnamon-sugar cereal with strawberries after dinner to replace my usual dessert of chocolate or ice cream. But now I feel like that’s just cheating. Yes it was healthier, but I was still trying to find satisfaction by indulging in something sweet—and too much of it. That defeats the purpose.

This time around, I’d really like to replace the act of “having dessert” with something more productive. Maybe it’s going for a walk after dinner. Maybe it’s blogging. Or just learning something new. It sounds completely ridiculous, but that’s how big of a problem dessert is for me, really!

And OK. I’ll confess, I’m already going to cheat right off the bat. Lent begins three days before my highly-anticipated, Carribbean cruise vacation. I know God would be so much more proud of me if I were to stay on Lent during my cruise….lol. But I can’t. I won’t! Only because this will be my last real vacation before things get crazy at work, and I’m spending a ton of stinkin’ money for this trip. So I will eat desserts on my vacation, and will start Lent as soon as it’s over. I might even extend it past Easter to even things out. HA. WISH ME LUCK.

I’ve been obsessed with clean eating lately, so I’ve been avoiding flours, processed foods, butter and unhealthy fats as much as possible. I found this recipe for Paleo almond butter chocolate chip cookies, and I swear I may never make regular cookies again. They’re AMAZING, and you cannot tell whatsoever that they don’t have any flour, butter or oil! Plus they’re dairy free.

I adapted this recipe from Fast Paleo: http://fastpaleo.com/almond-butter-dark-chocolate-chip-cookies/

Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Ingredients:

1 cup almond butter
3 T honey
4 T liquid egg whites (or 1 whole egg should do)
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
2/3 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (I used dairy free chocolate chips)

In a bowl, mix together the first seven ingredients. Stir in shredded coconut and dark chocolate chips.

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Place spoonfuls (a little smaller than golf ball size) of the cookie dough about two to three inches apart on a greased baking sheet.

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Bake at 350 degrees for nine to 12 minutes.

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Serve with a generous scoop of vanilla coconut milk ice cream. Yum!

RECIPE:

Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup almond butter
3 T honey
4 T liquid egg whites (or 1 whole egg should do)
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. baking powder
2/3 cup shredded coconut
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (I used dairy free chocolate chips)

In a bowl, mix together the first seven ingredients. Stir in shredded coconut and dark chocolate chips. Place spoonfuls (a little smaller than golf ball size) of the cookie dough about two to three inches apart on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for nine to 12 minutes.

Detoxing from Vacation Food Crimes with Chicken Lettuce Wraps


 

My boyfriend and I recently celebrated our five-year anniversary. Five years seems like quite a long time so we decided to plan something exciting to celebrate. A friend of mine suggested we take a mini road trip down to Jacksonville, a cute little town in Southern Oregon. She mentioned wine tasting, a steam shower and champagne brunch so that was enough to convince us. We packed up our bags, arranged a kitty-sitter and headed south.

Jacksonville is about a 5 hour drive from Portland, Oregon and just 20 miles from Ashland and the award-winning Oregon Shakespeare Festival. It was the first town in America to be named a National Historic Landmark, founded in 1851 following a discovery of gold deposits. Naturally, the town has an “old west” feel, with a corner saloon and a gun shop. Adorable! But I must say I’ve never been anywhere quite like it. Jacksonville is an outdoor, wine, food, music and art lover’s paradise. It is home of the Britt Festival, a summer outdoor music and performing arts festival, where you can bring your own picnic, beer and wine! Countless vineyards and wineries are just minutes from town, with several tasting rooms just steps from our hotel.

Wine tasting at Red Lily Vineyards, just 10 minutes from downtown Jacksonville.

We were lucky enough to stay in one of the 8 rooms at the Jacksonville Inn. We stayed in the Patrick J. Ryan room, the only one equipped with a steam shower. I had no idea what a steam shower was before I came to the inn, and let me tell you, the experience changed me. Imagine…a steam room…in a shower. You can shower…and steam! At the same time! In the mornings I enjoyed runs with views of vineyards and farmland, then came back to the inn for a refreshing steam shower. In the evenings after a long day of hiking, eating and wine tasting, I would unwind and prepare for sleep with another steam shower.

This was my view on my morning runs! Then afterwards…I drank wine at this vineyard!

Mr. Steam is his name! My best friend.

Each morning until 10 a.m. the inn provided freshly baked biscotti, hot coffee, and tea, so after my morning runs we spent the remainder of the mornings before breakfast laying in bed, reading magazines and watching cable TV while enjoying our coffee and biscotti.

Every morning should start this way.

A delicious made-to-order breakfast was included daily in our stay, with options like belgian waffles, breakfast skillets, omelets, blueberry pancakes, croissant french toast and more. On Sundays the inn serves a special brunch menu with free flowing champagne, assorted pastries and fruit.

Smoked Salmon Frittata

Smoked Salmon Benedict

Denver Omelet

Me getting excited for assorted breakfast pastries!

Jacksonville

I love when my toilet paper rolls are made into roses.

View from the summit of Lower Table Rock in Central Point, just 15 minutes from Jacksonville.

Just a 15-minute drive from Jacksonville is Table Rocks in Central Point where we burned off our breakfasts on a one hour round-trip hike up Lower Table Rock to a breath-taking view of the Rogue Valley. Then following the hike…I piled the calories back on with this mondo slice of chocolate mousse cake at the Jacksonville Inn…which I ate by myself and thoroughly enjoyed.

The rest of our trip was enjoyed this way…with lots of good, local wine, delicious food (Including the best burger of my life) and relaxation. Needless to say…I am now on a ‘diet’ after all the food crimes I committed…detoxing with healthy food to undo all the damage of vacation…starting with Chicken Lettuce Wraps!

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Ingredients

1 pound chicken, diced (I used boneless thighs, but you could also use chicken breast)

3/4 cup celery

1 small onion, diced

2-3 large cloves garlic, minced

1 cup diced bell pepper

1 cup diced mushrooms

1 cup diced water chestnuts

3/4  cup chopped green onions

2 to 3 T light soy sauce

2 to 3 T oyster sauce

2 to 3 T hoisin sauce

2 to 3 T rice vinegar

2 to 3 T sambal oelek or chili sauce (optional)

3/4 cup dried black fungus (optional-can be found in Asian grocers. Soak for about 5 minutes in boiled water.)

1 head red leaf, romaine or bibb lettuce

1 large spaghetti squash, roasted (optional but highly recommended)

Instructions 

Chop up vegetables. If using spaghetti squash, poke holes in squash using a sharp knife. Roast in a 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes. Cut in half lengthwise, and remove seeds. Scrape out the flesh using a fork; it should come out fairly effortlessly. If it’s too hard to scrape out put back in the oven for a few more minutes. The squash will look like spaghetti noodles! Set aside squash for serving.

Dice chicken into small, bite sized pieces. The smaller the pieces, the easier it will be to wrap and eat out of the lettuce leaves.

Heat about 1 T of oil in a skillet over high heat. Add chicken and cook until browned. Add onion and garlic and saute for a minute or two. Add the remaining vegetables (except spaghetti squash) and cook 2 to 3 minutes. Don’t overcook the vegetables or the lettuce wraps won’t have that nice “crunch.”

Add soy sauce, rice vinegar, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, chili sauce. You can modify the sauce amounts to your taste…If you like it saucier, add more of each ingredient. Pluck off whole lettuce leaves from the head, wash thoroughly and shake off excess water. Pat down with paper towels if necessary. Add chicken mixture to lettuce leaves, top with spaghetti squash, wrap up and eat!

 

Enjoy!

Feeding someone with food allergies…Stuffed Portabellas?


Last night we had my grandfather, his sister and her husband over for dinner. I was really looking forward to having them visit, but there was one challenge: Alice is allergic to gluten. And dairy products. And she doesn’t usually eat meat, only fish. And soy makes her angry. Oats give her arthritis…and I know the list goes on. But I was up for the challenge! So after a lot of thinking and searching for recipe ideas, I came up with stuffed portabella mushrooms. Usually stuffed mushrooms involve loads of dairy and gluten, especially since most of the recipes I find use breadcrumbs. So this recipe was an experiment for me, and the results were great! I figured chicken sausage was a safe bet, since she’s not technically vegetarian, and it added a lot of flavor. Well, I think I did well because she cleaned her plate! And those mushrooms are huuuge. I haven’t received a phone call yet about any emergency room visits…so I think I’m in the clear.

Ingredients:

2 T butter or olive oil (I like to use Smart Balance “butter” spread to make it lighter)

1 medium onion, finely diced

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 red bell pepper, finely diced

1/3 cup chopped sundried tomatoes

1/3 cup chopped almonds

4-6 large portabella mushrooms (I made 5 for this recipe and had a little filling leftover)

about 2 cups cooked brown rice

1/4 cup chopped parsley

1/2 cup marsala cooking wine (you can substitute chicken broth)

1 pound ground chicken Italian sausage

2 tsp dried basil, or 2 T fresh basil

about 1 to 1 1/2 cups marinara sauce/your favorite spaghetti sauce

balsamic vinegar, soy sauce (soy sauce is optional, omit if feeding someone with gluten allergy) and oil to marinate mushrooms

about 2 tomatoes (optional, to roast on top of mushrooms)

salt and pepper, to taste

Using a knife, remove stems from portabella mushrooms, and scoop out some of the insides to create a hole for the filling. Finely chop stems and set aside. The stems will go into the filling. Marinate the mushrooms in equal parts of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and light soy sauce (the amount doesn’t matter, just needs to be enough to evenly coat the mushrooms; use only vinegar and oil if feeding someone with gluten allergy). Let mushrooms sit in marinade for about 15 minutes (just a few minutes is enough to really absorb all of the flavor)

While mushrooms are marinating, chop vegetables and almonds (I like to use a rolling pin to crush almonds, but you can use pre-sliced almonds).

Over medium heat, add butter (or olive oil). Saute onion, bell pepper and chopped mushroom stems until they soften. Turn up heat to medium-high, and add chicken sausage. Saute until meat is cooked all the way through.

Add brown rice to meat mixture. Add marsala cooking wine, almonds, and sun dried tomatoes. The last few minutes of cooking, add basil, parsley, and about 1/2 cup of spaghetti sauce. Fill mushrooms with rice mixture.

Bake mushrooms at 350 degrees for about 20-25 minutes. If desired, top with tomato slices brushed with olive oil, and bake for another 10 minutes. Serve mushrooms with marinara sauce to top.

Herbs in a mason jar, my idea of simple table decor.

This is what I do with tomatoes when they are spewing out of the garden...cute decor for dinner guests.

Chocolate covered strawberries and bananas for dessert...with mint tea.